Suggestions for My (Kinko’s) Co-Workers

Kinko’s is a chain of copy stores, but it’s also something more than that—it’s part of the informal, mobile-office, road-warrior, knowledgeable-worker-on-the-go infrastructure. It’s a “cultural phenomenon,” in a New Economy kind of way. For example, the people who work there aren’t called “employees” or “workers,” they’re called “co-workers.” Because they’re your co-workers, dear customer. They are on your team.

I’m not exactly a road warrior, but I’ve had occasion to spend a fair amount of time in Kinko’s outlets over the past year or two. And as a result, I have a couple of suggestions for my co-workers. (Actually my cartoonist/illustrator friend—and fellow Kinko’s customer—Josh Neufeld suggests an alternative explanation for the “co-worker” title: He thought it implies that all customers are de facto Kinko’s staffers and ought to pitch in, maybe by hauling out the trash or something. Anyway, Josh was helpful in refining my suggestions.)

Usually I go to Kinko’s when I’m in an unfamiliar city and need to check my e-mail or, on occasion, send a fax. The shops I’ve visited all have the same, wide-open interior architecture—here in New Orleans, and in Minneapolis, Nashville, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Asheville, Louisville, and Tampa. The self-serve copiers and whatnot are in one big section of the store; there’s a counter, and behind the counter, visible to all, is another big space filled with all the fancy machines that the Kinko’s workers use to do the various big print jobs and other drop-off work. This is very consistent.

But here’s the problem. Often, as I’ve stood in line to pay my small fee, I’ve noticed that there’s one person working the cash register and three or four milling around in the back doing the print jobs. I’ve watched them at some length because often the line moves slowly. After all, there’s only one cashier. Now, I understand that whatever those people are doing back there is probably bringing in more money than I’m likely to deliver. And I understand that they can’t stop to help out the cashier because they’re working on what they’re supposed to be working on. Occasionally one of these workers looks at me, then goes back to what he or she was doing before. Is that something a co-worker would do? (Well, maybe it is.) Anyway: Please, co-workers, get wise, and put up a wall behind the counter so I don’t have to think about how many of you are ignoring me as the minutes tick by. OK?

My second suggestion involves an annoying inconsistency. I have found that my co-workers’ house rules vary from shop to shop. At one, my bill prints out behind the counter. At another, the bill prints out somewhere in the common area. But I have no way of knowing that until I’ve waited in line and the co-worker behind the counter fills me in—rather impatiently, in some cases. The fax machine, meanwhile, might be behind the counter and accessible only to the employees, or it may be in the self-serve area. This can vary even at different outlets in the same city. Listen, co-workers: One of the keys to nationwide chains is, in fact, total consistency. Decide what works, and go with it.

Maybe Kinko’s doesn’t need my advice since the chain seems to be nearly ubiquitous and presumably brings in healthy revenues already. And normally I would never presume to tell strangers how to run their businesses. But this isn’t the pushy complaining of a customer. It’s just a little friendly advice between co-workers.